SULTAN YACOUB, Lebanon, (Reuters) – Lebanon beefed up its forces around pro-Syrian Palestinian guerrilla bases on Thursday, but said it was seeking talks not armed conflict with militants over ending an armed presence outside refugee camps.
A U.N. report, prepared by special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen to the U.N. Security Council, said on Wednesday arms were still flowing across the Syrian border to Palestinian groups and others in Lebanon.
Lebanese army commandos had deployed in force along the border in response to the killing this week of a civilian army contractor by suspected Palestinian gunmen.
The Lebanese army, hours before the report was released, also encircled positions maintained by the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in the Sultan Yacoub area in the eastern Bekaa Valley.
The decision to reinforce the troops with more tanks in Helweh and Yanta near posts of the Fatah Uprising group was because the "region”s rugged terrain makes it hard to patrol the area with jeeps", a security source said.
Lebanese officials played down the significance of the deployment, saying they wanted to talk, not fight the Palestinians.
"We don”t have an interest in having anyone drag us into a battle, an argument, a difference or tension that seeks goals that don”t serve Lebanon," an official statement quoted Prime Minister Fouad Siniora telling a cabinet meeting.
Siniora launched talks with various Palestinian factions earlier this month to hammer out an agreement over the issue of Palestinian arms outside the camps.
The Lebanese government says Palestinian groups must shut down the military posts they hold outside the dozen squalid refugee camps.
Syrian-backed Palestinian groups, not affiliated to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) which has taken a softer line, have rejected demands they close down those positions.
"Regarding the Palestinian issue, there was a government decision taken unanimously and this decision is being executed.
Dialogue with the Palestinian brothers should start as soon as possible," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said after the cabinet session.
The military began tightening its grip along the border and around the Palestinian camps and outposts weeks ago, after reports that Syria was using the Palestinian outposts as a conduit for smuggling weapons into Lebanon.
The issue of armed pro-Syrian Palestinian groups in Lebanon has moved to centre stage since the Security Council passed Resolution 1559 last year, demanding the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country and the disarmament of all militias.
Syria ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April after mounting international pressure and mass protests over the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14.
Damascus has repeatedly denied its involvement.
About 390,000 Palestinian refugees live in 12 camps around Lebanon, which the Lebanese army does not enter.